Most of the 360 islands of the San Blas Archipelago are near Panama’s mainland and away from the trade winds. But there are a few outer island groups near the barrier reefs to the north still getting the effects of the trades and these are the island you want to visit if you are going to San Blas to kitesurf. The best spot with fields of waist-deep clear water, sandy bottom and sweet east winds is at Cayo Holandes island group, near the anchorage nicknamed by cruisers The Swimming Pool.
There is a $10 anchoring fee valid for one month and a Kuna man named Viktor will swing by in his ulu (a dugout canoe) to collect it as soon as you drop anchor. No matter how long you are planning to stay you have to pay 10 bucks. Almost everywhere you go in Kuna Yala (San Blas) you will have to pay a few dollars for anchoring near an island or for stepping on it. To Ivo this was very disturbing, especially after we paid the record amount of $430 for 1-year visas for Panama and a cruising permit, plus a separate $60 fee paid to the Kuna Yala Office on the island of Porvenir for anchoring anywhere in Kuna Yala territory. In two years of cruising and visiting over 30 countries we have never been required to pay so much when checking-in in a new country. So Ivo just couldn’t grasp the logic of having to pay again and again and again and again almost every time we drop anchor or we go ashore in San Blas. And Ivo can get very negative when it comes to ‘unfair’. But it’s not just this.
One day we kayak to a small uninhabited island bringing only a photo camera, sunscreen, and a towel. There we see a few huts currently in construction, an ulu and two Kuna men on the beach. One talks politely with us, explaining how much a traditional ulu costs and how it is made up in the mountains on the mainland by masters ulu-makers. I ask if I can take a picture of this canoe and he says sure. But then the other guy approaches and asks for a dollar for photographing his friend’s ulu. Then he says that each one of us has to pay $3 for stepping on the island- a total of $10 for 3 people + 1 picture, he quickly calculates (even though Ivo and Maya remain in the kayak and technically never set foot on land). He gives us as an example he obviously used many times before: “If you go to a restaurant and order food you have to pay for it at the end, and similarly you have to pay for stepping on the island and taking a picture of the ulu.” I try to argue politely that this is totally unexpected for us, that I had permission to take the picture from the ulu’s owner, that we have no intention of stepping on the island, and that we don’t have any money on us right now. The two guys then search very thoroughly my bag, where they find a towel and sunscreen, and when they don’t find any money, they are very disappointed and tell us to leave. But first they explain, that to them “all white people are gringos (rich Americans) and they have to pay.” Ivo is furious; I can see fire coming out of his nostrils. But he manages not to kill anyone. We leave.
I’m including this information, because we have heard that people have been asked to pay up to $100 for permission (or rather for a fine) to kitesurf near some of the islands in Kuna Yala. At Cayo Hollandes you are welcome to kitesurf for as much as you want and with no additional charge, as long as you pay your $10 anchoring fee.
Thus, after Aruba, where Ivo took his first kitesurfing lessons, this was the next spot where he could practice and improve his new skills. At the beach we meet two other guys kitesurfing which always doubles the fun.
About the author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off-the-grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in theirFacebook pageShare